The dreary bank holiday rain had petered out overnight and the morning was overcast. The grey sky and high humidity were perfect for fishing. I checked the height of the River Walkham, it had risen less than an inch, Dartmoor had absorbed most of the rain. Land Rover electrickery prevented me from going off road, the battery had drained. Again.
I decided to fish the River Plym, flies would be hatching and no spaniels are allowed in the woods. The flats just above the bridge looked inviting and I spent a while exploring the deep channels and pots with a nymph. No response. There never is but its a good place to warm up. One day I’ll get a fish there.
Olives hatched and midges swirled just above the surface, there was plenty of food for the trout. I walked up to Commando Pool and sat watching the fish rise along the bubble lane. First cast with a GRHE nymph there was a rattle on the rod tip which I missed. I tied on a small dry olive and presented it carefully. The fish ignored it and moved down the pool. I moved down the pool and the fish disappeared.
I found fish rising in most pools and tried small, unweighted spiders, dry olives and GRHE nymphs but nothing took. I think that a lot of the rises were smolts ‘smolting’ on their way downstream.
The bluebells were at their peak and I spent most of my time looking for photo opportunities. The scent of the bluebells mingled with the wild garlic and the musty smell of the river. It will be a few days before I can fish the Dartmoor rivers again, it’s mayfly time in Sussex.
Last week had been set aside for day trips to the beach, carp fishing and visits to the moor. The weather had been kind but I was exhausted by the merry making. The good weather persisted and by Monday morning I was keen to visit my favourite Beat on my favourite river, the Tavy. I chose Southwell I from the rod cupboard, it would slow me down and ensure a relaxing afternoon.
The Defender rattled and banged down the rocky path, the state of which seemed to have deteriorated since my last visit a month ago. I watched the river as I set up my rod. Olives were hatching and the surface of the water, in the slacks and eddies, was covered with clouds of midges. I thought I saw a mayfly but it was probably a large olive. Anglers describe olives as, large, dark, blue winged etc. which I find unhelpful. Larger than what ? Darker than an ordinary olive ? How confusing. The weather was warm and overcast and an upstream breeze helped with presentation. I sat on the rocky river bank, back from the waters edge and flicked the nymph into the head of the top pool. The rod gave a little kick as it unwound and presented the fly perfectly. Fishing the pool down and across, exploring the crevices and pots, took about half an hour and I was surprised not to get a take. The fish were not rising despite a constant procession of duns floating downstream.
I moved down the river, fishing the pools and riffles methodically, until I reached the Defender when I took a break for a drink and slab of fruit cake. The hatch continued and I studied the river carefully, looking for any sign of a rise in the broken water. Nothing.
I fished the long run under the near bank and the wide flats, trying different sizes of nymph and different weights, but arrived at the fishing hut without troubling any trout. As I sat at the head of the pool choosing a fly, a fish rose in the bubble line about 20 yards downstream. It rose several times in the same place and I decided not to approach the fish as there was no cover and the water was crystal clear. I tied a size 12 brown nymph on the long tippet and cast into the main flow. The line swept downstream and the trout readily took the fly. It was a beautiful little fish which made the entire trip a success. I packed up my rod and went for a walk.
I returned to top of the Beat and sat on a patch of coarse sand watching the water. A fish rose in the shallows where the midges were buzzing just above the surface. It was a splashy rise and I thought it might have been tree debris. The sun broke through the overcast and the little fish rose continually. I crawled to the rivers edge and peered into the water. There were no buzzers or nymphs to be seen. I turned over a few stones but they were bare. How odd. Next time I must experiment with a dry fly.
My modelling career took another step forwards with a photo shoot on location in deepest Sussex. The exact location was a secret to foil the paparazzi. We met at the bridge and wound our way along the narrow country lanes to the river. It was quiet except for a tractor, bigger than Mr. Clarkson’s Lamborghini, workmen from the EA arguing about some river monitoring wizardry and a fleet of multi-coloured transit vans.
Clouds, mainly grey, flew along the shallow valley on the warm westerly wind. The breeze and overcast were perfect for fishing but the light was flat and boring for photography. We walked to the riffle that we had identified as a good location during our last visit and set up our respective gear. I had a pocketful of stuff. The cameras and lenses required luggage.
The plan was simple, I would fish down and across towards the distant long-lens. I would catch a monster trout for posterity. The cloud cover started to break up as I worked my way slowly down the riffle and the occasional patches of blue sky were welcome. Alder and grannom settled on my jacket but the fish were not rising. After a few minutes I had a splashy take but it took me by surprise and my reaction was amateurish. I rested the water and chose another fly pattern. The GRHE never fails to deliver a trout. I worked my way down to the middle of the riffle where the river is deeper and had a tentative take but I failed to connect. I suspect it was the same small wild fish that had dropped downstream.
Further upstream, much casting and posing failed to get a reaction and we embarked upon Plan B. I had foolishly guaranteed to catch a fish from the secret lake in the woods. The beech trees along the sides of the deep narrow valley kept the wind off the water, most of which was calm. The wind was roaring through the treetops well above our heads. The slight ripple along the east bank coaxed debris across the lake and under the overhanging bushes to my left. The trout were not rising but I was confident that I would keep my promise. The scene was set and the long handled landing net was waiting close to hand.
After a few exploratory casts in the margins, I flicked the black neoprene buzzer further out and let the fly line arc round. The gentle tug on the line made an old man very happy. I was relieved but cautioned against any celebrations until the fish was in the net. Much electronic clicking accompanied the splashes. It was about two pounds and dashed away from the net after having its portrait taken. The disturbance put the fish down and despite exploring the margins further along the bank, I couldn’t make it a brace. We walked to the other lake where the trout were occasionally rising for emerging buzzers. The heavy fly line and strong tippet were not ideal and we departed without troubling the fish further.
It had been an interesting trip. I concentrated on fishing and the camera had not been a distraction. I had started in Devon mode and messed up the early contacts but the Sussex muscle memory had come good in the end.
PS. A couple of days later, after collecting my diaries from Otter Bookbinding in Midhurst, I returned to the river but the blustery 50mph wind chased me away without wetting a line. Much concentration failed to extract a trout from the lakes in the wood.
The River Walkham is my home river but I don’t fish it often, casting from the garden seems like cheating. In the summer I greet the little trout each morning and watch them feeding, they are part of the family. I had never fished two of the Walkham Beats. I eventually found the gate giving access to one of the upstream Beats and wandered down the side of the valley, through the woods to the river. Wow, I should have visited earlier, it looked lovely in the watery spring sunshine. It had been hot over the weekend and the fish had retired to the shelter of the tree roots and deep pools. I saw one fish but it saw me first and did a vanishing act in six inches of water ! Sedges and Blue Winged Olives filled the air and I decided to stick with a GRHE nymph, as usual.
The water was crystal clear, pouring directly off the moor. No run-off from agriculture or sewage outfalls polluted the little river. The deep narrow valley kept the sun off the woodland floor and the riverscape looked a bit bleak and wintery. I walked to the top of the Beat and fished back down. The woodland and river banks had not been ‘managed’ and it was tricky to find space for even a roll cast. Buzzards mewed high above the tree canopy, a wren fussed about beside the river and a kingfisher zoomed downstream. I saw another fish, slightly smaller than the first, but it arrowed away upstream into a culvert. I will return when the water is warmer.
29 March – River Tavy
It was a grey day but by early afternoon the mist had burnt off. My favourite Beat on the River Tavy beckoned. The river is wider than the Walkham and there are no casting restrictions. I knew exactly where I would start to fish, the riffle below the bend with the dead tree. It was a bit chilly and occasional drops of rain threatened to develop into a shower. The rocks were cold and the exposed algae and weed mimicked the smell of the seaside. The river seized my nymph and quickly put a bow in the line. Mending the line and hanging the leader on exposed midstream rocks enabled me to search the deep runs thoroughly and I was confident that I would get a take.
Some of the dead trees had been knocked over by the winter gales, they reminded me of the dinosaur skeletons in the Natural History Museum. The thin rocky soil prevents deep rooting, rain and the strong winds funneled up the valley had taken their toll. I searched among the stones and rocks under the exposed root ball but there were no treasures.
I fished all the runs and pools to the best of my ability and was slightly surprised not to catch anything. Even the big pool under the oak tree failed to produce a fish. Nevermind, it had been a good afternoon.
30 March – River Tamar
Rain was forecast, then snow later in the week. It was a bit misty and cold when I arrived at the river, the border between Devon and Cornwall. As I crossed the fields I wished I’d worn a heavier jacket but the sight of the river warmed me. A snipe rose from the rushes in the ditch and went jinking-off across the field, not happy with my intrusion. The work party had trimmed the trees and strung a new fence along the river bank. The big river required a good double-haul just to reach midstream.
I walked half a mile to the top of the Beat and fished the slow glides down and across with a nymph. The big riffles demanded a heavier and brighter fly so I swapped to a black and silver spider for those stretches. Blue sky and bright sunshine at lunch time produced a good hatch of Blue Winged Olives and midges.
The newly installed fencing required a high back cast. I retrieved all the snagged flies. At the bottom of the Beat the water flowed evenly and the trees along the far bank threw a shadow across the river which made watching the leader a lot easier. Without warning a fish took the nymph and lifted my spirits. I bullied it away from marginal debris, admired the little fish and returned it in a quiet pool. It was a very silver fish with large eyes, possibly a sea trout smolt. My first fish of the season.
I caught a trout on my first visit to the Tamar last season. As I wandered back across the fields to the car, I resolved to spend more time in Cornwall.
Cottage chores or fishing? A Blue Winged Olive settled on the window frame, it was a sign from Isaak. A Merlin helicopter passed overhead on its way to 42 Commando HQ at Bickleigh, that was another sign; I should fish my favourite river, the Plym. The weather forecast was for cold, easterly winds but as I looked over the bridge parapet in the village, a gentle south-westerly was hardly enough to disturb a cloud of midges. How do they get the forecast so wrong ?
The gorse was on fire at three separate locations to the north of the main Plymouth road and traffic had been diverted across the moor causing traffic jams. I eventually arrived at the river and hopped over the barbed wire into the quiet, shady woodland. I started at the pool just below the bridge. Sedges were hatching everywhere and a dipper frantically worked the opposite side of the pool picking off the emerging nymphs. I flicked the weighted nymph under the bridge and worked the deep water between both arches but despite my confidence nothing rattled the rod tip.
The river was crystal clear and flowing well. I crept along the waters edge, keeping low to avoid shadows. Each riffle and pool promised a fish but the fly remained unmolested. Just as I reached the most productive stretch four spaniels and a labrador crashed into the pool in pursuit of a tennis ball. Their owner looked a bit embarrassed and said that he would take the dogs further downstream. I left the river and drove to the bottom of the Beat.
Although I had removed three bin liners full of bottles and cans a few days earlier, Carlsberg cans dotted the emerging bluebell shoots like mushrooms and there were fresh embers in a fire pit. I cast upstream and worked the GRHE nymph down the channels in the bedrock. The best pool curved around a sheer rock face and I was relieved to have it to myself for thirty minutes. The sandy beach only had the footprints of deer, no humans or spaniels had been there.
I was slightly disappointed not to catch a trout but the warm breeze and bright spring sunshine were reason enough to be beside the river, the season is young.